Lesley University graduate student Natalie Lane wanted the students in her art therapy group to have their artwork appreciated by others, so she organized a show in the community room at Chelsea Village Elderly on the final day of her internship.
Lesley University graduate student Natalie Lane (right), with the seniors, Elisa Enamorado, Silvia Hernandez, and Irena Lewicki, in her art therapy group at the Chelsea Village Elderly, 5 Admirals Way. The seniors are pictured in front of their artwork at a show inside the Chelsea Village community room.
Residents walked in and admired the artwork of Village residents Irena Lewicki, Elisa Enamaorado, and Silvia Hernandez, who stood proudly in front of their finished pieces and happily answered questions about the entre artistic process.
Lane, 22, has been working with the seniors as an art therapy intern since September. She held one-hour art classes twice a week in addition to a one-hour art therapy studio session.
“My goal was to introduce therapeutic expressive art to the residents,” said Lane, who is originally from Texas.
“I stressed the creative component of healing, along with building relationships and a community. The seniors did such a good job and they deserve to be proud of it and to be appreciated.
It turns out what the seniors themselves appreciated the most was Lane’s teachings and professional manner, complemented by her warmth and vibrant personality that made each student feel special.
“Natalie is the finest person I’ve ever met,” said the 71-year-old Lewicki, who was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1963. “She directs us in such a positive way. I’ve learned so much from her. It’s not easy, but it’s a beautiful thing to be able to express yourself through your art. She’s transformed me in to an artist.”
Enamorado also said that Lane was an inspiration and gave her a deeper appreciation of art.
“We had an art group that was like a family and it was taught by a wonderful person,” said Enamorado. “What I enjoyed most was working on the group art piece.”
Tammy King, residence services coordinator for Chelsea Village (Peabody Properties), said the art therapy program was a huge success.
“I really appreciate Lesley College’s programming and administrative support and having Natalie here to provide such an outstanding program for our residents,” said King, who attended the art show.
When the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Obama Administration suddenly announced on Dec. 23 that they would start conducting raids to take into custody Central Americans who were here illegally and missed critical court dates, it didn’t take long for panic to set in around Chelsea.
With a huge population of Central American migrants who have arrived over the last two years seeking economic opportunity in the U.S. and fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the news travelled fast and that large population went into panic mode.
Social media would light up with erroneous reports of ICE being in Chelsea or Eastie every time a black sedan drove down a street.
Spanish language radio broadcast false alerts when people would call up for supposed ICE raids on certain streets – which turned out to only be routine police patrols.
It was all unfounded, and unfortunate, but illustrated the panic that can be aroused at any moment in the large communities of people who have arrived in the area over the last few years – once known as “unaccompanied minors.”
“There was a panic every time people saw a black car and the radio stations were conveying the information,” said Gladys Vega of the Chelsea Collaborative. “You wouldn’t believe the panic. One man came to our office and wouldn’t go to work because he thought ICE would come get him. He risked losing his job, and there was nothing happening yet. People should be wise, but educated.”
The panic, however, is not without reason.
DHS and ICE did start conducting raids on Jan. 2 after announcing the effort rather quietly on Dec. 23 before Christmas. They announced that 121 persons had been taken into custody in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, though advocates believe smaller numbers have been taken across the U.S. and they believe the raids could soon happen in areas of Massachusetts like Chelsea and Eastie. The federal government is not broadcasting its game plan, so no one really knows for sure.
To that end, the Collaborative is holding a community meeting for those affected on Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Collaborative. It will be a safe, informational meeting for individuals and families. Then, on Jan. 14, there will be another meeting for stakeholders in the community – such as the Chelsea Schools.
The featured speaker will be Oscar Chacon of Alianza Americas, a national expert on the issue.
“Chelsea has not been affected yet, but we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” said Vega. “There is not need to put people in a panic, but we want them to be prepared and have the tools ready and the information ready if something does happen.”
That, she said, includes putting together a team to go door-to-door after the meetings.
“We’re going to be getting together the non-profits and creating a Chelsea raid response team going door-to-door to raid education and preparedness,” she said. “We want to make sure anyone who opens the door is very careful and that they have code words and emergency contacts ready for their kids. If a parent gets taken away for deportation and the kids come home and no one is there, they need to be ready to have emergency contacts and accommodations. Nothing is happening here now, but we are the largest immigrant community in Massachusetts.”
Chacon said it is a complicated issue, and he isn’t sure what brought on the newest set of raids right now.
The reason for the raids, however, is due to the fact that the Central Americans have missed court dates that were set for them when they crossed the border and were taken into custody. Once in custody at the border, which typically was in Texas, the individuals would submit information as to where they were going, and then they would be released and allowed to travel to that location. Later, a court date before an Immigration Court judge would be set up and notification mailed to the address given at the border.
Many folks, since early 2014 and up until right now (as there has been another surge recently from Central America), chose to come to Chelsea or East Boston where there is a huge Central American population and where many of their relatives or friends resided.
However, a vast majority of those folks in this area and nationwide, ended up missing those hearings. That, Chacon said, resulted in a deportation order being issued by the judge when the individual didn’t show up.
“That’s kind of where all of this beings,” he said. “Because there are so many people over the last two years who have come in, there is simply not enough lawyers – and never could be – to adequately and expediently represent everyone in all of these cases. Second, these people com broke. Upon coming here, they don’t have the means to retain the services of a lawyer. The result is when the hearing is scheduled, these people have not found an attorney to represent them. So, many decide not to show up. Other simply move from the place they first came to live. Someone may come to Chelsea first and then move to Everett, but forget to send the change of address. When the court hearing notification comes to the Chelsea address, they never get the information In both cases, they don’t go and that results in a deportation in absentia order.”
He said that right now, they believe there are about 15,000 such cases that fit the profile, with likely more to come.
“We first got the news of what is now happening in the Washington Post on Dec. 23 and tried to get more information about it, but weren’t successful,” he said. “When we did get more information, we tried to get President Obama to back down and ask the DHS to back up, but without success. On Saturday, Jan. 2, they conducted the raids in North Carolina, Texas and George. Now, we know the raids are going on in a few other places too…It is a special operation focused on Central Americans.”
Chacon said he will offer common sense tips, explain what rights people have, inform people as to what is going on right now, and go over the legal services that are available.
“If ICE comes knocking at the door at 5 a.m., many wonder if they have the right not to let them in,” he said. “Most people in that situation really don’t know. They see armed people with ‘ICE’ on their chest and they’re scared. In their countries, when people like that come to the door and you don’t open up, they break down the door and will likely kill you. People need to understand that’s not how things go down in the United States of America.”
Another situation that is also unfolding is the fact that the intended target might have moved, but the person who now lives there might also be wanted by ICE.
Chacon said it is all very curious, and politically speaking, an odd move in what is an election year.
“This type of move doesn’t sit well with Latino voters,” he said. “From an election perspective, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering what is the goal of the Obama Administration. It’s either they think the Latino vote doesn’t matter or they are so confident they will get the Latino vote no matter what. People, especially women and children running away for they lives, deserve support and protection, not deportation.”
Trina and Reggie Wilkerson
When All-Scholastic quarterback Reggie Wilkerson was having one of the greatest seasons in Chelsea High School history in 1989, his mother was always in the stands cheering, “Get ‘em, Get ‘em. That’s my son.”
When Trina Wilkerson was cheerleading, performing in a dance recital, or receiving her diploma at the CHS Class of 1991 graduation, her mother was always encouraging her with, “Go Trina.”
Irena Ann Wilkerson was there for every step of her children’s journey through youth sports and the Chelsea school system. There were so many good times that Irena Ann Wilkerson shared with her children, who made her proud of all their achievements.
“Our mom was our rock, our No. 1 fan who always made time for her children because we were her everything,” said Trina Wilkerson.
And now Trina and Reggie will pay tribute to their mother at a benefit fundraiser hosted by the Wilkerson and Robinson families. The event will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, from 7 to 11 .m., at the Merritt Club on Webster Avenue. The proceeds will go the MGH Cancer Center for Appendix Cancer Resources.
Mrs. Wilkerson passed away on June 2, 2014 at the age of 59. She fought gallantly against the disease.
“We thought what an honor and blessing it would be to hold an event to let the whole city know how awesome our mom was and to encourage the ones who are fighting everyday for their lives, families who are crying everyday for strength, resources and support – what a reward to live our mom’s legacy and celebrate her life and bring awareness toward this non-discriminatory disease,” said Trina.
The Wilkerson children said their mother put up a valiant battle against cancer. It’s still difficult for them to talk about how this disease took a strong, vibrant, and energetic woman from them.
“Talking about our mom’s fight is tough because we are ‘broken’ over our tremendous loss,” said Trina. “Our mother was very humble and strong. She fought. She boxed but she never gave up because of her faith, believing in the Lord and having her mother, children, grandchildren, siblings, daughter-in-law, aunt, nieces, nephews, brothers-and-sisters-in-law, and cousins right by her side from beginning to end, which made her transition from this lifetime easier.”
Mrs. Wilkerson was a very spiritual and religious woman who enjoyed spending time with her family.
“She loved going to church with her mother and spending time with her mother and aunt,” said Trina. “She also enjoyed reading and watching her favorite football team, the Patriots, loyal to the team win or lose. She loved Foxwoods but what she loved the most was family time, especially around the holidays.”
Trina and Reggie were asked what made their mother the special person she was.
“It was her heart, her love,” they responded. “You could always count on her. She loved big! She was a phenomenal mother, daughter, sister, niece, and much more. She meant a lot to many people. Her grandchildren loved their “Mama ReRe.”
Trina and Reggie can only imagine how proud their mother would be of their efforts in holding this fundraiser to continue the fight against cancer.
“She would be filled with joy, smiling from ear to ear with her beautiful smile. We know she’s looking down from heaven saying, ‘Those are my children. Go Peanut (a nickname Mrs. Wilkerson gave Trina at a very young age).”
Mrs. Wilkerson lived 54 of her years in Chelsea and she loved this city.
“Our mom was very proud to be from Chelsea,” said Trina. “She came here from Albany, Georgia at the age of five with her parents. She grew up with her siblings. She got married, had two great kids in this city. She was very proud to witness the up and coming All America City.”
To this day, Trina and Reggie carry forth the qualities that their mother passed on to them.
“Have high self-esteem, family first, keep the faith, take care of each other,” said Trina. “Our mother taught us that whatever you want to accomplish in life, you can. Do not allow anyone to tell you otherwise. Respect values. Be good to others. Carry yourself with the utmost respect always.”
Many current and former Chelsea residents and friends of the Wilkerson family are expected to attend the fundraiser at the Merritt Club, where Mrs. Wilkerson’s brother is a member.
There will be musical entertainment by Gil’s DJ Services, with Josette Williams serving as master of ceremonies. Raffles prizes will include Edible Arrangements gift baskets, membership at former heavyweight champion John Ruiz’s gym in Medford, a gift certificate to Texas Roadhouse, a wine basket, a lottery tree, his and hers beauty baskets, a gift certificate to the New Brown Jug, and many more.
James Robinson, a great basketball player in his own right, Autumn Lopez, Chelsea High’s highest scoring player of all time, and Jaelyn Lopez will speak to the assembled guests on behalf of the family.
Trina and Reggie Wilkerson will express their “appreciate, gratitude, and love of our mother” in other ways during the celebration.
“We’ll greet the guests, mix and mingle, have poems and music, and tell stories of how much fun we had with our mom,” said Trina.
Dead bodies were part of the daily grind.
Death and rape were imminent realities.
These were the words relayed through tears of two women who just arrived from El Salvador to Chelsea via the Texas border as part of the huge influx of women and children flooding the country.
Last Thursday afternoon, a huge crowd of City leaders, school leaders, attorneys, community groups and other concerned citizens from Chelsea gathered at the Chelsea Collaborative to figure out what to do and how to help the large numbers of people like these two women who are coming to Chelsea from the border.
Chelsea and Lynn, both of which already have large Central American populations, have been identified as ground zero for the influx in Massachusetts. Many are coming to stay with relatives, distant relatives or even sponsors who already live in the community.
“We’re not here to take anybody’s resources; we’re here because we want to survive,” said one anonymous woman from San Marcos, El Salvador, who crossed the border in May and is staying with relatives in Chelsea who are also in the country illegally. She appeared to be in her late 20s.
The two women who spoke to the standing-room only crowd talked mostly about gang violence that has ripped apart their communities. One woman even spoke of a “war tax” imposed on the people by violent gangs – a payment demanded by the gangs in exchange for not killing family members.
“My mother decided for us to come here in May so she wouldn’t lose me,” said the first woman in Spanish via an interpreter. “She had already lost one son. When I was 11, they killed my father. It was all about the money, the war tax, and stealing, stealing, stealing. What I need is your help. I need an attorney because I want to stay here. I need to get money to my mom, but I need to do it secretly behind everyone’s back or the gangs will steal it…I would love to be back in my home country, but I have to come here because I want my daughter to survive and I want to survive.”
The second woman, also from El Salvador and who also came in May, said she fled so her 5-year-old would not be raped by the gangs in the coming years.
“I have a 5-year-old daughter and in the neighborhood we live the gang members said any girl 12 or 13 years old will be raped by the whole gang,” said the second woman, who appeared to be in her late 30s. “All the girls in my neighborhood have been raped and they’re not speaking up because they’re afraid of being killed. The gang already killed two members of our community. We need your help. I’m willing to abide by the laws and follow all the rules of the country just so I don’t have to go back. Help us and think of us and please allow us to stay here and not go back.”
Neither woman, nor a young teen who apparently came over the border alone, would allow themselves to be photographed or identified by name.
The unabashed violence spoken of above is one major reason why so many from Central America are rushing to cross the border. However, reports from the border also indicate there is a mistaken belief among the immigrants that are presenting themselves that if they make it across the border, they will be able to stay. It’s a belief that is said to have been sparked by a misunderstanding of President Barack Obama’s deferred action plan of two years ago that allowed young people brought to the country illegally as children to stay temporarily without fear of deportation.
However, how or why they have come is now beside the point, said Collaborative Director Gladys Vega.
Right now, she said there is a humanitarian crisis in Chelsea as more and more people trickle into the city with nothing to eat, nowhere permanent to stay and no idea how to navigate the immigration system (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) they are beholden to.
Vega said they began to see children and young mothers come to their front door earlier this spring. First there were one or two who were desperate for help. Now, there are 15 children a week filing into their offices for help.
“We had no idea how we would address the issues with this other than to do what we always do, which is to bring people together,” she said at the outset of the meeting. “We are treating this as a humanitarian crisis right now and we need to identify all kinds of resources…For these women, dead people in the streets are the norm. They’re not even appalled or surprised to see a dead body in the street as they walk to church.”
The meeting was also held in conjunction with MIRA – a Hispanic immigrant advocacy organization. The organization’s local representative, Christina Aguilera, stood side by side with Vega to put out the call for help.
“We know this is an issue that is part of a larger issue, but right now we want to just focus on the children,” she said. “We want to support the children and the families. This situation is really not new, but it is really escalating…This needs to stop being a political debate. This is about children and the terrible situations they suffer where they’re coming from.”
Vega and Aguilera hosted attorneys from Catholic Charities, Suffolk Legal Services and Greater Boston Legal Services, as well as mental health professionals from North Suffolk. They asked for pro bono legal assistance, volunteers to provide rides for the women to their immigration appointments in Burlington, and even people to volunteer to be ‘sponsors’ for those who show up and have no family members to care for them.
One of the hardest hit local institutions are the schools, and Superintendent Mary Bourque said they have seen a trickle over the last three years turn into a steady current over the past six months – mostly young people of late middle school and high school age. There aren’t, she said, many elementary school children coming.
They have had to hire English immersion teachers and also mental health professionals to cater to those who have shown up in the schools. Like in many communities across the country, the Chelsea schools are likely to be the front lines in addressing the situation as it grows.
“Our students need vaccinations,” she said. “We need to align with medical facilities in our community to make sure they get checked and get vaccinated and that they get the two or three rounds of vaccinations that are necessary. We’re going to need more social workers in the schools over the next two years. There’s an acclimation issue that takes place naturally, but there is also the trauma of the journey. We definitely see an increase in regard to social-emotional issues.”
She also said that many students are coming at the age of 14 or 15 – or even older – and they have a very limited education. They are so far behind that the likelihood of them graduating from public school is very low. She called for career training and other services to help educate these older students.
“Many come at 14 or 15 and they haven’t been to school since the second grade,” she said. “Even then, the quality of a second grade education where they’re coming from is not the same as it is in Massachusetts. The academic gap here has to be thought out.”
In conclusion, legal advocates said the community can expect this to be a long and slow situation – and one that won’t end anytime soon.
“This is a horrible situation for everyone and a horrible situation for the kids, but until they appoint a gazillion more immigration judges to speed up the process, it’s going to be a slow process,” said the woman from Greater Boston Legal Services